Southwell Retires from Canadian Business

Southwell told a Canadian newspaper that he feels good about his achievements, having created more than 700 jobs and more than $200 million in business loans for new enterprises.

The son of one of St. Kitts and Nevis’ National Heroes, Sir Caleb Azariah Paul Southwell, Rustum said he holds unwavering pride for what the organization has accomplished over the past 16 years. He is hopeful its success story will be shared worldwide. 

“The success of this initiative is that we’ve stayed true to our sweet spot and true to our mandate,” Southwell told the Chronicle Herald in Canada. 

“For us, it’s exceeded what it was set out to do and I believe the model and the economic structure we’ve designed is something that can be replicated.” 

Operating on the same budget but with twice the staff it began with in 1996, BBI was founded to promote and encourage black entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia to pursue their business dreams. The organization offers skills development, loans, education and mentorship.  A 2006 census found that 56 per cent of the companies working with BBI had created new jobs, compared with just one per cent of new mainstream businesses, Southwell said. 

Statistics Canada figures show that from 2001 to 2006, the number of black-owned businesses grew 57.7 per cent, compared with 1.1 per cent growth in other businesses. 

With 15 to 20 past or present companies boasting more than $1 million in annual sales, the organization helped fledgling startups in becoming true business powerhouses.

For Southwell, some local standouts include Robert Loppie, founder of the environmental waste solution The Bin Doctor Ltd., and Darla Johnston, a single mother who founded the ‘Slic Laser Hair Removal Clinic.’ 

The province wide charitable initiative called Business encourages entrepreneurship among black young people, the north-end community garden project Hope Blooms, the organization’s support of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and the African Nova Scotia Music Association are points of pride for Southwell. 

The organization’s five-year, $3.25-million grant from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will expire in 2013, so stepping down early in 2012 will give the incoming CEO time to get the organization’s upcoming strategy in place, said Southwell, 61. 

Since arriving in Halifax in the early 1970s from his native St. Kitts, Southwell said, “the opportunities for an enterprising young black person have grown in leaps and bounds. Challenges do persist, however, and even given the success of the organization, it is unlikely to disappear soon.”

“Sometimes when people talk about our organization, they question that if everything is right in society; why do they need us? Well, there are still challenges to the black community that close doors.”

“There’s a lot more work to be done on the corporate side like being more inclusive, mentoring and including small companies from all diversities in the development of the supply chain because that can only benefit the community as a whole.”

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